Audrey Hitchcock’s husband, Craig Ramini, left his Silicon Valley job in 2009 and reinvented himself as a cheesemaker. Together, Hitchcock and Ramini launched a small-batch buffalo mozzarella operation with five water buffalo, named after rockers like Pat Benatar and Annie Lennox. The couple learned how to milk the 1,500-pound beasts and hand-pull fresh cheese on a former dairy farm he rented some 40 miles from their Tiburon, California, home.
Then, two years ago, Ramini was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I made a decision at that point to keep the company going, to give him even more of a reason to fight,” says Hitchcock, who worked the ranch while her spouse underwent chemotherapy. A year later, after his cancer had spread, she temporarily shut down the business to stay by Ramini’s side until his death at age 54.
Determined not to abandon her husband’s legacy, Hitchcock, 51, now runs Ramini Mozzarella, tending a 53-head herd, milking daily, and making roughly 160 8-ounce balls of fresh cheese twice a week, which she delivers the following morning to restaurants in the Bay Area. Despite a goring incident with one particularly wild buffalo (she still bears the scar on her cheek), she remains wholeheartedly devoted to the mostly gentle giants. “I am so in love with these animals, it’s ridiculous,” she admits. “These have been the toughest few years of my life, but the buffalo are much of the reason I continue.”